Why have children become the currency of success?

My place of work should be a space where I am judged less on my ability to reproduce and more on my ability to carry out my responsibilities

Emma Clarke
Monday 05 September 2022 10:35 BST
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Not so long ago I was at a professional ice-breaker event where attendees were tasked with troubleshooting various workplace issues, equipped with Post-Its and whiteboard markers on their last legs.

To break up the constant stream of corporate jargon (“storming”?? “M&A”??), one of the presenters handed out a bingo card he had made especially for the occasion. Initially it seemed like a bit of fun – albeit of the forced variety. But it soon took a sinister turn.

As I scanned the flimsy bit of paper, there was not a single thing I could relate to. Among the statements written in the squares were: “I watched BGT this weekend”, “I mowed the lawn”, and “I drove to work this morning”. Worst still was the square that read: “I have more than two children”.

The timer was set and my colleagues frantically circled the room trying to tick off their sheets before everyone else, their eyes positively rabid. Meanwhile, I just stood in the corner of the room, being bombarded with the same question, over and over: “Do you have children?”

Perhaps this line of questioning seems harmless – I mean, how else were they meant to stamp those squares and win absolutely f*** all for their efforts? To me though, it was not only incredibly insensitive but made me feel unworthy, as though my lack of offspring made me a lesser person.

“No?!” Several people exclaimed. “Oh, well you’re no good to me!”

By now I have become accustomed to Baby Talk (by that I mean conversations about babies, not ridiculously high-pitched gibberish coming from adults – though both are equally patronising) in my personal life. There’s the incessant badgering from relatives about when I will be with child, and friends competing over who will get a little womb squatter first. Once you turn twenty it seems to be all anyone can talk about – that and your ability to settle down with the first mouth-breather that shows you the slightest bit of attention.

Should this be a conversation in my place of work? Of course I am well aware, as a woman, of the obstacles my predecessors faced in the fight for our freedoms. I am definitely aware of pay disparity, and have personally faced more sexism and harassment in the workplace than you can shake a stick at. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I am not naive. In the slightest.

That said, I was absolutely stunned that this “game” made it through quality control. That they looked at it and thought, “Yeah, that’s a good idea!” That for all the problem solving, they couldn’t spot something so problematic. I was even more gobsmacked that not just men, but women, were judging me and seemingly attacking me for not having kids.

In fact, several women took much pride in telling me (in maternal tones, of course) that I could strike that square off my sheet, because they were such natural-born babymakers their sprogs practically walked out of their vaginas. What’s it to you, Mary, if I haven’t got any kids? Does it make you feel better to laud your brood over me?

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Truth is, I have thought about it. I am almost thirty-one and, thanks to the society we live in, I am not immune to such musings. My close friends are starting families (which I am delighted about) and I have lost count of how many children I am an “auntie” to. Every time I get a letter from my GP to book in a smear test I am reminded of the fragility of female fertility, and I’m bombarded with pregnancy-related posters in the reception area. How could I not?

I’m not saying I do or don’t want kids – I don’t even know if I am able to or not. But what I do know is that I’ve spent most of my adult life building a career that I am extremely proud of. I have seized most opportunities I have been presented with and I have travelled – and done the vast majority of it off my own back.

My place of work should be a space where I am judged less on my ability to reproduce and more on my ability to carry out my responsibilities. So, while I am truly happy for you for your momentous achievement, please stop using children as some sort of currency of success.

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